Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Korean Barbecue Bulgogi

KOREAN BARBECUE
W/ BULGOGI 

I teach a non-Western Cultures/Anthropology course that ends every semester by asking my students to do some fieldwork to explore another culture firsthand. Really, the whole point is to get teenagers to feel extremely uncomfortable talking to strangers about a culture that is different from their own, because it pushes them out of the bubble they construct for themselves to feel safe in a bizarre world. Its a healthy push. Anyways, part of this fieldwork requires them to experience culture through food in the most authentic way possible. I draw up guides to Chinese, Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Middle Eastern gastronomic experiences in Chicagoland and let them have their pick. I encourage them to visit our amazing cultural neighborhoods where the signage changes as much as the traffic laws to get them as close as possible to real anthropological fieldwork and a true immersion experience.

They return to school with a wide range of reports. Most of them say that they ended up loving curry/kimchi/octopus when they would have otherwise never even tried it. Of course, some of them will never go near the stuff again, but perhaps their palates will change. But, hands down, the cuisine that always gets a 100% stamp of approval from America's 21st century youth is KOREAN BARBECUE.

Perhaps its because there are no mainstream or commercialized chains for Korean restaurants, so they don't have familiarity with Korean in even an Americanized sense, but Korean food always takes students by surprise. They do love the whole interactive bit about cooking your own raw meat at the table, and all the fun sides that come along with it. And while I didn't install a grill burner in the middle of my kitchen table to make this bulgogi with typical Korean barbecue sides, it hit the spot at home after hearing my students gloat about the amazing food they ate.

While a Korean barbecue meal doesn't need to specifically include bulgogi, and bulgogi can be served on rice rather than with barbecue accoutrements, this was a simple way to enjoy one of my favorite cuisines. Korean barbecue can get more complicated with ribeye stead and short ribs, but I found a leaner sirloin worked just fine and the flavor was still great. I didn't go too wild making the million side dishes you would just automatically be served for Korean barbecue, but some simple dressed scallions and prepared kimchi were all I needed.

Bulgogi Ingredients (makes 3 servings):
  • 1 lb. sirloin or ribeye, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 asian pear, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup chopped scallions (plus a little additional for garnish)
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium & gluten-free soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. molasses (or honey, brown sugar, or agave nectar)
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds
Green Onion Salad Side (Pajori):
  • 4-5 scallions, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 tbsp. sriracha
  • 1 tbsp. chili paste
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
Other Accoutrements:
  • Lettuce leaves to serve (I used escarole, but bibb, red leaf, or green leaf will work)
  • Kimchi
Start by preparing the marinade for the beef.  As you make the marinade, place the beef in the freezer for easier slicing later.  In a large bowl, mix the grated pear (this helps tenderize the meat), garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, molasses, vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
Slice the beef as thinly as possible, on the bias, and massage into the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but up to a whole night.
While you wait for the bulgogi, you can make the scallion salad by slicing thin strips of green onion and tossing it in the sriracha, chili paste, and vinegar.  Allow to rest and the scallions will soften.
You can also remove the largest, broadest leaves from the head of lettuce for serving.  Cut off the thick, fibrous ends and keep the leafiest part.
Finally, when the bulgogi is ready to cook, grill on high heat (I used a grill pan).  The beef should cook and brown quickly, in about 4 minutes.  Toss in sesame seeds and remaining scallions after cooking.
Serve with the sides of scallion salad, kimchi, and lettuce leaves.  You can also add additional hot sauces and bean sprouts as accoutrements.
Quick step-by-step guide:
  1. Start by preparing the marinade for the beef.  As you make the marinade, place the beef in the freezer for easier slicing later.  In a large bowl, mix the grated pear (this helps tenderize the meat), garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, molasses, vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Slice the beef as thinly as possible, on the bias, and massage into the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but up to a whole night.
  3. While you wait for the bulgogi, you can make the scallion salad by slicing thin strips of green onion and tossing it in the sriracha, chili paste, and vinegar.  You can also remove the largest, broadest leaves from the head of lettuce for serving.  Cut off the thick, fibrous ends and keep the leafiest part.
  4. Finally, when the bulgogi is ready to cook, grill on high heat (I used a grill pan).  The beef should cook and brown quickly, in about 4 minutes.  
  5. Serve with the sides of scallion salad, kimchi, and lettuce leaves.  You can also add additional hot sauces and bean sprouts as accoutrements.


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